Santa Barbara and others set to impose high electric car charging station access fees
Recently the Santa Barbara City Council approved installation of six electric vehicle charging stations downtown, and that users would be charge $5 per hour to access the stations. Buried in the middle of recent news of quick charging networks coming to California and Chicago is the factoid that access to those stations would cost $7 per 15 minutes. Some electric car charging stations have no access charge, while for others access to the station costs a nominal amount, and in other cases the access charge is very high. Perhaps this is a sign of a young industry, one in which the "going rate" has not been settled upon, and different organizations see the electric car charging business model through different lenses.
The typical cost for electricity is $0.11 per kilowatt-hour. An electric car with a 3.3 kilowatt charger will consume 3 kilowatt-hours per hour of charging, or about $0.35 worth of electricity. The next wave of electric cars, with 6.6 kilowatt on-board chargers, will instead consume 6 or more kilowatts per hour of charging, or about $0.80 of electricity. The question is, who should pay for the electricity, who pays for maintenance of the charging station, and how much should charging station usage cost (if anything)?
And to complicate the question, in the current phase of electric car acceptance there is a widespread feeling that "we" should do as much as possible to encourage electric car adoption. Hence, many think the public charging stations should be free to encourage electric car adoption. If the current policy is for free electric car charging, when should the policies change to start charging a fee to access charging stations?
One way to slice this question is to draw a comparison to the cost for driving a gasoline car. Electric cars with 3.3 kilowatt chargers get approximately 12 hours of driving range per hour of charging, and those with 6.6 kilowatt chargers get approximately 25 miles of driving range per hour of charging. Spending $5 for 12 miles of driving seems is a poor bargain compared to the $1.50 in gasoline (or so) required for a 30 MPG gas car to drive the same distance. In our earlier reporting on this, we noted a 3.3 kilowatt charger, at $3 per hour, costs $0.25 per mile of range, and at $5 per hour the cost rises to $0.41 per mile of range, while on a 6.6 kilowatt charger the cost is half, or about $0.12 per mile at $3 per hour, or $0.24 per mile at $5 per hour. For $3.50 per gallon gasoline, the cost per mile for is $0.12 in a 30 MPG car.
The $7 for 15 minutes of access to a CHADEMO station would correspond to perhaps 30 miles of electric driving. This, too, compares poorly to the $3.80 or so worth of gasoline a gas car would consume traveling the same distance.
On the other hand these costs are well above the cost of using most other electric car charging stations. On Coulomb's ChargePoint network a large portion of the stations are free (no access charge), and among the rest access fees are typically $0.50-$1.50 per hour, while in some cases the fee is $3.00 per hour. On the Blink charging station network, access by "guests" (no Blink membership) costs $2 per hour, and depending on membership level the access charge is as low as $1 per hour for Blink network members.
Each charging station owner has their own conceptualization of the business rationale for owning a charging station. For example the Walgreens drug store chain is installing Coulomb (ChargePoint) charging stations and giving free access to the stations. A retailer can expect a customer whose car is charging to spend more time in the store, and perhaps spend more money, enough to pay for the electricity their car is consuming. Likewise a parking garage owner could see a similar tradeoff where an electric car owner will park for a longer period than other car owners, and pay more in parking fees.
In the case of Santa Barbara, a report on the Noozhawk website says the Santa Barbara City Council believes that a Santa Barbara citizen who owns an electric car won't need to charge their car downtown, but can rely on their home charger. Hence, it's believed the charging stations Santa Barbara is about to install will be primarily used by out-of-towners. The cost for charging station access could drive electric car owners to other towns than Santa Barbara, as the stations in Solvang and Ventura both have much lower access fees than $5/hour proposed in Santa Barbara.
Electric car charging stations are the primarily method to give electric car owners freedom to drive more widely, otherwise known as the freedom to roam. A good charging station network can enable electric car owners to take their cars further than most think is possible for an electric car. But a high access fee to use the stations will tend to dampen any enthusiasm for using the stations.